Never enough

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 28 May 2024

For a record-extending 12th time, Ahly won the African Champions League but the coach criticised fans for wanting more, writes Alaa Abdel-Ghani

Ahly

 

It’s rare for a winning coach to chastise his supporters for wanting the winning to continue non-stop but that’s exactly what Ahly’s Swiss manager Marcel Koller did.

Egyptian giants Ahly had just won their 12th African Champions League title after beating Esperance of Tunisia 1-0 in the second leg of the final in Cairo on Saturday following a scoreless tie on the road.

In the press conference that ensued, Koller called on the club’s insatiable fanbase to savour the triumph and not immediately turn their attention to the next trophy.

“I know the fans will demand the 13th title for me as soon as I arrive at the residence hotel,” he said, according to cafonline. “I’ve learned at Ahly that after we finish one tournament, the fans ask us about the next one, and this is not a good thing, as they don’t know how to celebrate and enjoy these moments.

“Looking for titles is a good thing but it’s important to know how to be happy.”

Basically, Koller was insinuating that Ahly supporters are an ungrateful bunch and do not know how to cherish the moment and don’t particularly care to know.

There is some truth to Koller’s characterisation of Ahly fans being a bottomless pit of super high expectations. The time between an Ahly victory and an Ahly call for more success can usually be measured in nanoseconds. No sooner do the fans celebrate than they demand to know when the next celebration is.

But when you look at the statistics, can anyone blame Ahly fans for expecting nothing less than perfection, especially in the Champions League which the team practically owns?

This was Ahly’s 12th African crown, a record that keeps growing. Second best and far behind are crosstown rivals Zamalek and TP Mazembe of the DR Congo with five apiece, followed by Esperance with four.

This is Ahly’s fourth triumph in five years.

They have now won back-to-back continental crowns.

It’s the fourth time they lift Africa’s most prestigious football club title twice in a row.

They went unbeaten throughout this 12-game tournament, matching the feat of their 2005 side.

Despite Ahly’s hammerlock on the Champions League and despite a scoreless first leg out of town, a score which would normally favour the hosts for game two, apprehension in the Ahly camp was palpable. In Tunisia, Esperance had two, maybe three better than decent chances, including an early header that flew just wide, and were unlucky not to have scored at least once. Ahly, on the other hand, had no such achievements, firing a few shots from way out that could not possibly have gone in.

There was also the away goals rule that still applies in African football and which would have made life for Ahly very uncomfortable had Esperance scored in Cairo. It would have meant Ahly needing two goals to win on aggregate.

In Cairo Stadium, though, Ahly took the lead in just the third minute when Rami Rabia’s header from Hussein Al-Shahat’s corner deflected off Esperance midfielder Roger Aholou and into the bottom left-hand corner. That would prove the winning goal and a lead Ahly would not relinquish.

South African Ahly striker Percy Tau struck the side-netting and Al-Shahat fired a rocket from long range that was pushed over by Amanallah Memmiche in the 36th minute.

The visitors were close to getting the equaliser around the hour mark when Brazilian midfielder Yan Sasse curled the ball from distance into the far corner but the shot went inches wide.

Substitute Magdi Afsha came close to doubling the hosts’ advantage in the closing stages but his free-kick hit the crossbar.

Ahly saw out six minutes of added time to seal the win and take the prize money valued at $4 million (Esperance will get $2 million).

Koller will get part of the money but probably will have little time to spend it because as he seems to know only too well, an Ahly coach can never rest on his laurels. Besides the Egyptian league, he must turn his attention to Ahly meeting old foe Zamalek in the African Super Cup after the latter won the Confederation Cup last week. The game date is yet to be decided.

Koller must also decide who to pick between the sticks. Having played the entire African campaign, Mustafa Shobeir is no longer called Ahly’s substitute goalkeeper even though technically he is, standing in for Mohamed Al-Shinnawi who suffered a dislocated shoulder in the Africa Cup of Nations in February.

But Al-Shinnawi is back, the second-stringer for both final legs.

When Al-Shinnawi reaches full fitness, it will be interesting to see Koller’s decision for the remaining domestic league fixtures: continue playing Shobeir who helped get the team the African trophy, or send him back to warm the bench, a task he has been doing for a couple of years, and reinstate Al-Shinnawi who has been an Ahly and Egypt stalwart for the past six years.

It will be a difficult call. Ahly finished the Champions League campaign with the best defensive record, with just a single goal conceded. In that spell Shobeir kept nine consecutive clean sheets.

In his press conference, Koller was not asking the fans to stop dreaming. Just requesting that they take a breather once they’ve scaled an Everest.

In a way, Koller is a casualty of his own success. Ahly fans who cannot get enough championships, they know who to go to.

Kohler, 51, a former Zurich and Grasshoppers boss, has now won eight Egyptian and African trophies in less than two years at the helm.

But after another historic achievement, he urged Ahly supporters to have a sense of perspective.

They don’t think they need one.

All they know is that the job of an Ahly coach is never done.

 


* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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